August 3, 2017
How did men become engaged in the cause of women’s suffrage? In almost all cases of at least the most active members of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage of the State of New York, it was a woman who happened to be his activist mother, sister, wife or lover. In the case of Max Eastman, the League’s first secretary, it was all four: his mother, the Rev. Annis Ford Eastman; his sister, the attorney Crystal, Eastman; his one-time girlfriend, the suffrage icon Inez Milholland; and his wife, the versatile Ida Rauh.
This Brooklyn Eagle’s “A Smile a Second” column appeared on September 7, 1912, just shy of three years after the League’s founding in November 1909, by which point its membership had grown into the thousands. The greater women’s suffrage cause at last was gaining real ground with voters in the state and nationally, making it ripe for satire from the men who were becoming their allies.
D.T.B. writes: “My wife has been demanding the right to exercise the franchise so vehemently that I named our old horse The Franchise and told her to go exercise it. The temperature of our domicile has been slightly below zero ever since and I burned nine tons of coke last week trying to create a congenial atmosphere. Belonging to the Suffragents is too expensive for a man in my station in life. Please accept my resignation.”
G.F. writes: “When a neighbor’s wife told my wife that I was a member of the Militant Suffragents my wife went downtown and bought three new gowns, three new hats and five pairs of shoes and had them charged. I don’t believe there is a way to circumvent the women and I also believe that our cause is going to fail for lack of funds. Somebody has been tipping off the secrets of the order. All of the women in our block know our password and hailing sign.
Earlier, as society matrons joined the cause, even the popular, pro-suffrage Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne found a way to parody them in his June 1909 “Mr. Dooley” column for American Magazine. He depicted a group of Chicago socialites deep in debate over whether their favorite department stores should install polling booths, or if election days could be postponed in bad weather, or if they could have their footmen cast ballots for them, or if they could be allowed to telephone them in.
Here’s “Mr. Dooley on Woman’s Suffrage” (American Magazine, Vol. 68, June 1909, pp. 198-200)